Chicana Feminism emerged first and foremost in response to the sexism women experienced in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Despite their commitment to the movement, Chicana feminists saw that their interest in ending sexism and gender inequality within the Chicano Nation opposed the beliefs of Chicano Nationalism that emphasized family loyalty and traditional gender roles. Essentially, women were to fit within one of the three major female icons – La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona. This triad formed the parameters of traditional Chicana femininity and womanhood. Effectively, Chicana feminists who were strong in their convictions and beliefs were labeled malinchistas and vendidas (essentially sell-outs), among other things. These names come from the La Malinche myth (she was the mistress of and translator for Hernán Cortes during the Conquest).
In the 1980s, Chicana feminists, alongside other women of color, began to compare and contrast their experiences of oppression within their individual ethnic civil rights/nationalist movements as a means of theorizing their multiple forms of oppression. This movement produced many groundbreaking pieces of literature/theory such as the seminal anthology This Bridge Called My Back (1981, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga). Works such as Bridge allowed women of color feminists to develop cross-color/identity/politics coalitions which used an intersectional approach of race, class, gender, and sexuality as a means of explaining their individual oppressive conditions in the United States.
In “La conciencia de la mestiza” (Mestiza Consciousness) (1987, in Borderlands), Anzaldúa develops the idea of a Chicana consciousness which allows her to have a more accurate perspective on the world and permits her to see the “Chicana anew in light of her history” and to see through “the fictions of white supremacy” (87). Anzaldúa discusses her motivation to discover objective knowledge about herself and her place in society/the world: “I seek our woman’s face, our true features, the positive and the negative seen clearly, free of the tainted biases of male dominance. I seek new images of identity, new beliefs about ourselves, our humanity and worth no longer in question” (87). Anzaldúa, in another chapter of Borderlands, introduces the concept of la facultad, which is a survival tactic, a skill that marginalized people develop. It allows people to adjust to changing and threatening situations and is one that involves a loss of innocence and an awareness of discrimination, depression, fear, illness, and death. It is a process that involves pain.
Moraga’s “La Guera” appears in Bridge as well as in Loving in the War Years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios (1983). Moraga reinforces the notion that Chicanas’ political activism and struggle are more often than not based on knowledge that is gained from their experiences of political struggle. “La Güera” highlights Moraga’s coming-to-consciousness and her development of la facultad and awareness and understanding of her marginalized position in the world. She always felt that something was missing, that something was wrong.
In the preface of Bridge, Moraga notes her growing awareness of her differences from white women:
“A few days ago, an old friend said to me how when she first met me, I seemed to white to her. I said in honesty, I used to feel more white. You know, I really did. But at the meeting last night with white women here on this trip, I have felt so very dark: dark with anger, with silence, with the feeling of being walked over. I wrote in my journal: ‘My growing consciousness as a woman of color is surely seeming to transform my experience. How could it be that the more I feel with other women of color, the more I feel myself Chicana, the more susceptible I am to racist attack!” (xv).
This conscious raising experience is precisely what Moraga describes in her oft-anthologized essay “La Güera.” Her Chicana consciousness allows her to better reinterpret the things that have happened and happen to her due to her new perspective of the world. Moraga explains how she had previously refused to recognize the US racial hierarchy and had used her light skin as privilege while rejecting the Chicana within. Moraga’s friend tells her: “No wonder you felt like such a nut in school. Most of the people there were white and rich” (30-31). It appears that before this statement, Moraga has not truly understood and realized that she was neither rich nor white. She didn’t understand how much influence social categories have on a person’s existence:
“All along I had felt the difference, but not until I had put the words ‘class’ and ‘color’ to the experience, did my feelings make any sense. For years, I had berated myself for not being as ‘free’ as my classmates. I completely bought that they simply had more guts than I did – to rebel against their parents and run around the country hitch-hiking, reading books and studying ‘art.’ They had enough privilege to be atheists, for chrissake… But I knew nothing about ‘privilege’ then. White was right. Period. I could pass. If I got educated enough, there would never be any telling” (31).
When Moraga’s identity more accurately refers to her social position, she is able to conceptualize a more accurate perspective on the world. Effectively, this new perspective and consciousness is more objective as well. By viewing her coming-to-consciousness as a Chicana and woman of color, we can see that her changing political commitments are linked to her transforming idea of what her place in society is versus what it should be. Moraga’s transformation is a result of a need for truth and the hope of creating an objectively better world. Her Chicana identity allows her to have a better perspective from which to recognize oppression and, therefore, combat the oppressive nature of race and class privilege (among other privileges). By joining forces with other women of color (forming coalitions), permits a valuable dialogue that hopefully creates a liberating feminist collective. Essentially, Moraga’s decision to embrace her Chicana identity is a based on her best belief about what she should do to help end oppressive forces.
Some things to consider:
– The intersectionality of race and sex.
– Moraga’s coming-to-consciousness
– Anzaldúa’s “Conciencia de la mestiza” (Mestiza Consciousness) and la facultad in “La Güera”
– The Border (“Homeland, Aztlán”) as theorized by Anzaldúa and its influence on forming Chicana identity